1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Drummond

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:158-59.



A greater poet flourished in Scotland at the same time with Stirling, namely, WILLIAM DRUMMOND of Hawthornden (1585-1649). Familiar with classic and English poetry, and imbued with true literary taste and feeling, Drummond soared above a mere local or provincial fame, and was associated in friendship and genius with his great English contemporaries. His father, Sir John Drummond, was gentleman usher to king James; and the poet seems to have inherited his reverence for royalty. No author of any note, excepting, perhaps, Dryden, has been so lavish of adulation as Drummond. Having studied civil law for four years in France, the poet succeeded, in 1611, to an independent estate, and took up his residence at Hawthornden. If beautiful and romantic scenery could create or nurse the genius of a poet, the most interesting of Gothic ruins; and the whole course of the stream and the narrow glen is like the ground-work of some fairy dream. The first publication of Drummond was a volume of occasional poems; to which succeeded a moral treatise in prose, entitled, the Cypress Grove, and another poetical work termed, the Flowers of Zion. The death of a lady to whom he was betrothed, affected him deeply, and he sought relief in change of scene and the excitement of foreign travel. On his return, after an absence of some years, he happened to meet a young lady named Logan, who bore so strong a resemblance to the former object of his affections, that he solicited and obtained her hand in marriage. Drummond's feelings were so intense on the side of the royalists, that the execution of Charles is said to have hastened his death, which took place at the close of the same year, December 1649. Drummond was intimate with Ben Jonson and Drayton; and his acquaintance with the former has been rendered memorable by a visit paid to him at Hawthornden, by Jonson, in the spring of 1619. The Scottish poet kept notes of the opinions expressed by the great dramatist, and chronicled some of his personal failings. For this his memory has been keenly attacked and traduced. It should be remembered that his notes were private memoranda, never published by himself; and, while their truth has been partly confirmed from other sources, there seems no malignity or meanness in recording faithfully his impressions of one of his most distinguished contemporaries. The poetry of Drummond has singular sweetness and harmony of versification. He was of the school of Spenser, but less ethereal in thought and imagination. His Tears on the Death of Moeliades (Prince Henry, son of James I.) was written in 1612; his Wandering Muses, or the River Forth Feasting (a congratulatory poem to King James, on his revisiting Scotland), appeared in 1617, and placed him among the greatest poets of his age. His sonnets are of a still higher cast, have fewer conceits, and more natural feeling, elevation of sentiment, and grace of expression. Drummond wrote a number of madrigals, epigrams, and other short pieces, some of which are coarse and licentious. The general purity of his language, the harmony of his verse, and thin play of fancy, in all his principal productions, are his distinguishing characteristics. With more energy and force of mind, he would have been a greater favourite with Ben Jonson — and with posterity.